What's So Funny?: Making Sense of Humor

What's So Funny?: Making Sense of Humor

by Donna Jackson

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Everyone loves to laugh, and to hear and see funny things-but what makes something funny in the first place? What is humor? This book explains why our brains think something is funny, what happens to us physically when we laugh, why you can tickle your friend but not yourself, and so much more. Plenty of jokes and silly anecdotes are included, and hilarious line drawings appear on almost every page.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101664841
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 06/09/2011
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 64
File size: 4 MB
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Donna M. Jackson is the award-winning author of In Your Face and The Name Game (both Viking) and many other outstanding nonfiction books for children. She lives with her family in Louisville, Colorado.

Ted Stearn is an illustrator and storyboard artist for several animated cartoons, including King of the Hill and Drawn Together. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

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Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

WITH LOVE to my good-natured aunts and uncles, and to dearest Barb, a joyful, giving spirit —D.J.


A WARM NOTE of thanks to all the humor experts who contributed to this fun project: Rod A. Martin, PhD, psychologist and author at the University of Western Ontario; Jaak Panksepp, PhD, neuroscientist and Baily Endowed Chair of Animal Well-Being Science at Washington State University; Steven M. Sultanoff, PhD, mirthologist and clinical psychologist; Jessica Milner Davis, PhD, honorary associate, School of Media, Arts and Letters, University of Sydney, Australia; Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University; Richard Wiseman, PhD, author and psychology professor at the University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom; John Black, owner, Pun of the Day Web site; Yakov Smirnoff, comedian, artist, psychologist; Jami Gong, comedian and founder of the TakeOut Comedy Club in Hong Kong; Judy Carter, comedian, author, and comedy coach; JoAnne Bachorowski, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University; Jeff Gandy, Youth and Education programs manager, Second City Training Center, Chicago; Mark Gonzalez, comedian; Darren LaCroix, keynote speaker, comedian; Wali Collins, actor and comedian; Paul Kim, comedian and founder of the Asian talent show Kollaboration; Paul E. McGhee, humor researcher, author, and speaker; Cathy Strange; and Joni Wilson.

I’m especially grateful to the outstanding editorial team at Viking for their enthusiastic support of this book: publisher Regina Hayes, my editor extraordinaire Catherine Frank, copy editor Janet Pascal, and designer Nancy Brennan; to Ted Stearn for his humorous illustrations; to Susan Cohen and Brianne Johnson at Writers House for their guidance and expertise; and to Charlie Jackson, for a lifetime of love and laughs.

Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.

—Mark Twain, American author and humorist (1835–1910)


A PIE IN the face.

A slip of the tongue.

A burrrrp at the dinner table.

Humor. We all know it when we see it—and when we hear it. But people have defined it differently for centuries. One reason is because humor varies from person to person, and depends on factors such as age, culture, and even sex. What’s funny to a two-year-old is different from what’s funny to a ten-year-old or a twenty-year-old. What’s funny in Western cultures differs from what’s funny in Eastern cultures. What’s funny to a boy is not always funny to a girl.

Humor is highly personal. Much like beauty, it’s in the heart and mind of the beholder. “We’re all born with a sense of humor,” says Dr. William Fry, a psychiatrist and pioneer in humor studies. But it develops differently for everyone, based in part on life experiences. “It’s like a psychological fingerprint,” he says—one that evolves and changes over time.

Humor is a “moment of discovery,” a playful new way of looking at things. Each time you hear something funny, your brain makes new connections, says Fry. Humor has also been described as the thrill of getting it—as in understanding a joke or funny situation—and getting away with it—as in successfully pulling a prank on a favorite cousin. It can come from witnessing the absurd, like your neighbor dancing with her cat; or breaking social rules, like giggling at a funeral. Most often, it’s the pairing of two ideas, thoughts, pictures, or situations that don’t quite belong together but that fit in a “nonserious,” surprising way. You know, like the Florida principal who dressed in a hot-dog suit and let students spray her with ketchup and onions. Now that’s funny!

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